Understanding Yacht Racing in the Caribbean

Sailing boats can either pass through the water (displacement) or slide over the water (planing). More and more modern boats incorporate so much new technology and design that they are able to plane more often and faster than a few years ago.

This causes a problem for regatta organizers and rating designers that will be central to all regatta events this coming season.

Understanding Yacht Racing in the Caribbean 1

The majority of the ratings are unable to fully cope with the speed differences of planing and non planing boats especially when they cannot predict wind strengths and the angles of the wind on the course. Whilst our CSA rating system is one of the best in the world and highly regarded there are challenges that cannot be met without a great deal of greater complexity.

Going to the weather is not the big issue. Very few regular boats we sail in the Caribbean can plane to weather. There are boats that can plane to weather, mostly when they utilize some form of foil, but for the moment that is not a core challenge in Caribbean regattas. The problem is when the boats start going downwind that the rating has problems.

If the wind is light enough none of the boats can plane and if a rating is based on the yacht being expected to plane the planing hulls will be disadvantaged.

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However if the wind is strong enough then the planing boats start to have an advantage.  If the course just happens to be a “broad reach“ then the planing boats get the full advantage. If however the course is straight downwind the planing boats need to “tack” downwind reducing their advantage and the rating is more functional. Good race organization is therefore going to try to set courses that do not give all the advantages to either the planing or the non planing boats.

The planing hulls have become increasingly popular. You can recognize them by the pancake like look the yachts have from the stern.

There is the complication that many yachts will plane at say 22 knot wind speed but some yachts will plane at say 15 knots of wind speed.

The final outcome of many races will depend on whether the wind speed and the sailing angles suited a particular group of yachts.

Robbie Ferron
Director , Product advisor at Budget Marine

Chairman Emeritus of the St. Maarten Yacht Club Regatta Foundation.